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APIs in Healthcare Learning

February 8, 2023
February 8, 2023

By Swati Agrawal

You’ve likely heard that APIs can magically transform business, reduce waste, speed processes, and improve bottom lines.  What does this mean for healthcare, and specifically for healthcare learning? Let’s explore the advantages of using APIs and some specific use cases to illustrate the wide variety of ways in which they can help transform your learning workflows.

What is an API? 

APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, are program code -- functions and procedures -- that enable internal and/or external developers to create, read, update, or delete (CRUD) specific data you wish to make accessible to them. To use the analogy of a restaurant, a menu is offered to a customer, who then chooses what they want to eat. To place the order, the customer will only need to interact with their server, but there are many others working in the kitchen to ensure the meal gets to them correctly and in a timely manner. While they recognize the work being done behind the scenes to ensure their meal is cooked perfectly, a customer only has to work with their server to get that meal.

APIs work in a similar fashion. Much like the customers at a restaurant, all a client has to do is choose from a specific “menu” of data offerings. Once they’ve made their “order” through a virtual request (usually a ticketing system), the “chefs” running the API will know what to do to prepare the data as ordered. It is a fast and convenient way to provide clients with exactly what they want, all while providing a level of service and expertise that you would expect from any top-notch establishment.

Of course, this is only a simple analogy of the way that APIs operate – in reality, there are a wide variety use cases for APIs in healthcare learning. Let’s review some of them to give you a better idea of how they can transform your business and save money at the same time.

What are some typical use-cases for APIs in healthcare learning and how can they transform our business and improve the bottom line?

New User Registration and Course Assignment
The most frequently requested API use-case in learning is for new user registration and course assignment. Because manual processes require typing a lot of information or sending batch files, it is prone to errors and requires a timeline that can potentially take days.  With an API, a nurse can accept an offer or an assignment and the institution’s HR system instantly sends a virtual registration form to the API. Within seconds, the new nurse will receive an email to begin training. No gap between hiring and training means the employee can be on the floor faster, helping patients sooner, and generating revenue sooner.

De-Registration of Users
Similarly, exiting learners can be managed via API. Not only can the process occur quickly, it can be set up to occur in tandem with other automated termination workflows, such as disabling email, badge, and internal systems access when an employee terminates. When done manually, the batch process for learning system termination is usually separate and slow, which introduces risk of error into the workflow.

Grant Access to Systems Based on Completion of Training
Another frequently requested use case is to check course completion programmatically before granting access to certain clinical systems. For example, a hospital enables access to their EMR (electronic medical records) system only after completion of a suite of 10 EMR courses, each of which must be completed in sequence. In a manual process, reports would need to be generated each day to determine who had completed the courses and were eligible for access. With APIs, code can be written to ensure checks occur hourly, so there is no delay in providing practitioners with the access they need. If a learner completes the course, the EMR system is enabled for that learner and notifications are sent out automatically. For subscription services, the EMR team may opt to place a single request to monitor each new practitioner’s record, so a notification can be sent the moment the subscribed learner completes all 10 courses. In both cases, the practitioner can begin using the EMR sooner, perhaps days sooner.  They are on the floor faster, helping patients sooner, and generating revenue sooner.

External Learning Events
Many learning events and conferences are now offering attendees QR codes to make the process of adding newly earned CE, CME, or certifications to their learning system almost instantaneous. The attendee simply points their cell phone camera at the QR code, which contains the information needed to send the credit to the learning system instantaneously via API. This can create an enormous time savings for the team accustomed to receiving manual requests.

Reporting and Dashboards
Dashboards and reports are integral tools for managing the learning workflow for your practitioners, and they rely on the most up-to-date information possible. With APIs, not only can you generate information automatically, you can customize it according to your needs. For example, you can provide an executive dashboard with all resuscitation completions, a list of nurses with certifications expiring in the next two weeks, or a notification reminding learners of the classes they need to complete in the next two weeks. All of these tasks can happen automatically with APIs, eliminating the need for downloading data, manipulating spreadsheets, creating pivot tables, and generating reports. 

Connect This with That
This is a catch-all bucket for all the other workflow requests that APIs are great at managing. Perhaps learners at your institution complete training on multiple systems and you want all of the completions to flow to a single system-of-record. This is a perfect task for APIs. Perhaps learning is one step in a chain for the onboarding process, the completion of which triggers yet another step in the chain. These use cases can easily be managed with an API.

Headless LMS
With APIs, some learning systems will let you use their back-end database and business logic to build your own custom front-end, tailored perfectly and specifically to your business needs and use cases. This can be an attractive option for an organization with a highly skilled team that can design a lightweight front-end to specification without having to maintain back-end code or databases.

These examples are just a fraction of the tasks that APIs can help automate.  The result is a reduction in errors, waste, and frustration, faster completion time for tasks, reduced time between hiring and training, getting practitioners on the floor faster, and generating revenue sooner. 


About Swati Agrawal
As the Director of API Product Management at HealthStream, Swati is building out HealthStream’s API Developer Portal and evangelizing the benefits of APIs to internal stakeholders, clients, and partners.  She and her team assist various product teams across HealthStream with creation, testing, and support of APIs, API documentation, and API standards.  She is a passionate believer that APIs can help solve many of healthcare’s biggest problems.  She is working to deliver on HealthStream’s vision to improve patient outcomes through the development of healthcare organizations’greatest asset: their people.
About HealthStream
HealthStream, Inc. (NASDAQ: HSTM) provides workforce and provider solutions for healthcare organizations in the United States. It operates through two segments, Workforce Solutions and Provider Solutions. The company offers workforce solutions, including software-as-a-service (SaaS) based services and subscription-based solutions, to meet the range of its clinical development, talent management, training, education, certification, scheduling, competency assessment, performance appraisal and other needs, as well as implementation and account management services. This August, the company announced that its American Red Cross Resuscitation Suite™ has officially conferred one million life support certifications to healthcare providers across the country.

To learn more about API’s at HealthStream visit: https://ir.healthstream.com/news-releases/news-release-details/healthstream-launches-new-hstreamtm-developer-portal
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